LOS ANGELES _ Sommelier, connoisseur, oenophile … there are many names for people who have wine expertise, but when I have a question about food pairings, what to order and what I should stock in the home cellar (all right, who am I kidding, it’s a small wine rack from a garage sale) I turn to David Haskell, AKA The Wine Pimp.
No, he does not sell exploited vinos on the corner of Hollywood and Vine or do anything illegal. He tells me, “My staff gave (the name) to me. You know that show on MTV, Pimp My Ride? When you pair wine with food the way I do, it’s like pimping the wine. You take wine that might not have certain characteristics – it can seem boring even, on its own – and then you pair it with a certain food and it changes. It’s amazing.”
That’s what leads Haskell, 34, whose credits include stints at Guy Savoy, Le Cirque and Aquavit, to pair seemingly disparate items like a light and mean Grignolino d’Asti unoaked red wine from Italy with a poached egg dish over black beans and scallion crème with fried pig’s ear flakes as garnish that was cooked up by his buddy and Magnum Crew pop-up restaurant partner, chef Joseph Mahon. The yolk and black bean bring out tastes of cherry and spice in the wine that can otherwise get lost.
You have to be a pimp to see this kind of potential.
Every Man’s Liquor Cabinet
I talked booze with The Wine Pimp and he shared his philosophy for stocking a liquor cabinet: “Every man should always have a good scotch at home. For a date – whether you’re gay, straight, whatever you are, a scotch is the perfect thing. You don’t even have to mix it.” Haskell likes Laguvulin, though he also says Johnnie Walker is fine if you like blended scotches. Though that’s not his style. Take that as you will.
He also suggests cigars for when the guys come over. And a bottle of Cognac. “Actually, Armagnac is more my style,” Haskell says. “Armagnacs are made using the same grapes as Cognacs and come from the neighboring region, but they’re a little smoother and softer. Plus, Armagnac is not as well known so you can find some that are cheaper, but that are amazing.”
One last tip?
“Go buy a bottle of Champagne or Prosecco or Crémant, if you’re on a budget, and put it in the fridge. There’s nothing like coming back to your place with a date and already having a bottle of sparkling ready to pop open.”
It doesn’t have to be a date, either.
“If you’ve got friends coming over to watch the game, open up some Crémant d’Alsace or from the Loire and have it with chips and guacamole. That’s what’s known as ‘big pimpin’.’”
Tip 1: “Ask the waiter if there is a sommelier or wine director,” says Haskell. “If you’re worried about pairing, ask him or her what goes well with the dishes you’re going to order.” No one should hesitate to do this. “You didn’t put their list together. You don’t know the food as well as they do. You’re just looking for a little help.”
Tip 2: This is a good one for recessionary times. “You never have to go for that most expensive bottle. When you go to a restaurant, you should be able to find a bottle of wine you like for $40-50, and if you’re trying to impress someone, go up to the $80-100 range. You shouldn’t be ordering the $200 unless you’re a connoisseur and know exactly what you’re getting.”
Tip 3: “Don’t be afraid to try wines from regions you might not have heard of, but if you do, be sure to ask the sommelier about it. They should be able to describe to you exactly how every bottle of wine on their list tastes. It’s their job!”
Tip 4: “Google the wine list before you go out to dinner. It’s like going into a test; have things in mind before you go and think about whether you might just want to bring your own wine.”
Wine and Sex
Finally, The Wine Pimp’s philosophy on wine: “Every wine should have balance,” he says, vaguely, before giving a clearer sense of what he means, with a mischievous twinkle. “It’s like having great sex. If you start, and then all of a sudden you’re done, it’s out of balance. Wine, too, should be a seduction. The front palate shouldn’t hit you in the face. The middle shouldn’t be weighty and the back shouldn’t have you reaching for a Maalox. They should all work together seamlessly and leave you wanting more.
“What I do is about the marriage of food and wine. That’s an art, and I’m honored to do it for a living.”
(Eric Rosen writes about food. His previous piece for Made Man was The Finest Salts for your Kitchen. You can read more of his work at Eric the Epicure.)